Monday, May 5, 2008

More on ethics and hunting

There has been much controversy of late around hunting. Over at a wonderfully written blog, the Hog Blog (just google it), the author posted a defense of hunting as a response to some pretty nasty stuff written to him by an anti-hunter. His response is a good response, and the ensuing conversations are wonderful to read.

The conversation spins round the ethical question of hunting. Many, many arguments pro- and con- are made to the management of hunting, but most often these arguments spring from an ethical decision about the nature of hunting. People seem much more comfortable arguing the 'objective' criteria of management, probably as a result of our attempts at basing our society on science. Very often this is a good thing, but at times it too effectively hides the ethical component, the very impetus for our decisions. Our choosing science as the determining factor in management (game, land, or otherwise) is in itself an ethical decision. Aristotle hit on this point when, in his Nicomachaean Ethics, he determines that politics is the greatest good, as it determines the nature and direction of all other endeavours. It is important to bring to the fore, to discuss, argue, and come to understand the nature of our ethical decisions. In this light, here are some thoughts about hunting as an ethical activity:

Just as one cannot help but impact the environment, so one cannot help but kill. The nature of the physical world is such that things die, and that many living creatures gain or maintain life by killing other creatures. Our very bodies kill living beings every second of the day, and if they did not, we would die. So the question cannot be: should we kill? "Should" implies "can." Because we cannot help but kill, we must ask more thorough, more nuanced questions, because we understand killing as the finality that it is, and we understand that death and dying often brings sorrow, often goes hand-in-hand with suffering, and we are sympathetic creatures.

Before we single out hunting, consider all of the times and places in which we are responsible for killing: Driving is a direct action which kills countless animals, insects on the windshield; eating farm-raised meats kills animals for our sustenance; eating grains, fruits and vegetables kills countless plants, animals, insects, and fungi, through pest eradication (even organic farms need to keep pests down), harvesting and sowing methods, and the taking of millions of acres of habitat; electrical generation kills many thousands of birds each year, as do skyscrapers. So many ethical questions come from lists like this. Many of these questions are easy to answer, but difficult to carry out truthfully. Many others are difficult choices in and of themselves. Here are a few:

Should people allow other people to do their 'dirty work'? Should people move so quickly through the world that we become a danger to others? Should people use electricity at all?

As for hunting, for me it answers many important ethical questions: Should I take active responsibility for the consequences of my existence on this earth? Should I understand, truthfully, the nature of sacrifices for me? Should I incorporate myself more naturally into my local environment? Hunting is just one "yes" answer to this question. I cannot in good conscience allow others to kill for me, to kill secondarily, as a result of transportation or television, and not, at least occasionally, take up the responsibility for myself.

Hunting answers other questions as well, and hunting opens my eyes to the nature of, well, nature. It gives me a real, physical place in this world, a niche we have filled for untold millenia. We have relationships with others of the wild, as creatures in the wild. Our conscious minds offer us the opportunity to know this on a grand scale. Sometimes we succomb to our baser tendencies (to avoid pain, hunger, heat or cold or sadness), we suppress these lived experiences, and begin to believe that we are no longer a part of the world. Later, to justify our actions (the gentleman who writes the Hog blog stated that, "man is the only animal who rationalizes", a great quotation), many elevate this illusory distance to the level of ethics, and deride actions which have "impact" on the "resource."

But, when we lose understanding of our real, physical connections and relationships, we begin to cloud the nature of our ethics. Ethics are not mere words, but lived experiences.

1 comment:

Paul said...

I think what you say here comes as close to explaining why I hunt as anything ever has. When people ask me how I could ever take the life of another creature, I often want to respond with another question: "How can you let other people take the lives of other creatures for your benefit, while you yourself are not willing to do the same?"

I have found that it is often difficult to relate this idea to people, as many don't believe that they are in any way contributing to the deaths of animals. I feel that by hunting and fishing, by directly taking part in ending another creature's life, I obtain a greater understanding of death's place in this world, and I also feel more appreciation for life itself.